Very few documentaries remain so thoroughly engrossing from beginning to end, and fewer still have left me so in awe of the person. This comes from the social activism that defines Belafonte’s life. Describing it with honesty and insight, he self effacingly guides the film from his birth in Harlem and his boyhood in Jamaica to his current work in Los Angeles countering gang violence and massive incarceration.
In her chronologically organized, extraordinarily moving debut film, writer/director Susanne Rostock exhibits an unerring instinct for the choosing effective black-and-white archival footage that she then integrates into contemporary interviews that provide context. Those interviewed include Julian Bond, Tony Bennett, Miriam Makeba, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, and all four of Belafonte’s children. Through the tour, the stunning, energetic anchor is Belafonte whose life has been intertwined with a who’s who of leaders and social movements of the last half-century, both by the accident of his time period and his unshakable courage.
Belafonte describes his relationships with, among others, Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. As important to him always are those struggling against poverty and injustice around the world—Haiti, South Africa, and racism here in the U.S., especially during the 50s and 60s in the South. On that topic, Belafonte describes his early theater and television work, the taboos against blacks and whites even touching, as well as his early film work and the racism he encountered there. His marvelous singing, especially his rousing performance of the folk songs of rebellion and rejoicing and love, punctuate the details of his social activism. His energy and his humanity make Sing Your Song a total pleasure.
This HBO Films production has its St. Louis premiere at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18th through Monday, May 21st. For more information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.